Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Preview: Kansas vs. Bradley

Bradley got the rawest of the several raw deals teams in the top half of the Oakland received from the Selection Committee. In drawing Kansas as their first round opponent, Bradley has a far slimmer chance of pulling an upset than inferior teams (San Diego State, Montana, Wisconsin-Mailwaukee, Pacific) with equivalent or higher seeds.

From Kansas' perspective, Bradley is a far better team than they would hope to meet in a 13-seed, but still, Kansas hasthe solace of being a better team than Bradley and should win the game.

Bradley relies heavily on two scorers (Marcus Sommerville (6-7, 225) and Patrick O'Bryant (7-0, 260)) neither of whom shoot very well from the floor or get to the free throw line often. That both Sommerville and O'Bryant are far more likely to shoot than pass further complicates matters. Kansas has generally done a fine job of suppressing the field goal percentages of their opponents' primary offensive options. Guards Tony Bennett (6-0, 175) and Daniel Ruffin (5-10, 165) are more likely to be open than Sommerville or O'Bryant but relatively unlikely to have the ball in their hands. That's not even taking into account the possessions Bradley will lose to a Kansas steal. It's a nice comfort to have the bigger, quicker guards in a matchup.

Bradley's greatest liability on offense may be defensive specialist JJ Tauai (6-3, 215). In 375 minutes this season Tauai attempted just 35 shots and 11 free throws. In the 5 games he played against the Missouri Valley's NCAA tournament teams, he attempted only 7 shots and no free throws in 86 minutes. Tauai passes the ball much better than Marcus Dove, but he doesn't provide the offensive rebounding that the taller Dove gives Oklahoma State. It will be interesting to see the extent to which the 6-3 Tauai can trouble Brandon Rush.

Bradley doesn't shoot many threes, less than 30% of their field goal attempts on the year, and they make less than a third of those they take. Kansas still leads the nation in two-point field goal percentage defense.

Forwards Zach Andrews (6-8, 225) and Lawrence Wright (6-4, 198) give Patrick O'Bryant some help on the offensive glass, but, as a team, Bradley's offensive rebounding falls off against better competition. Southern Illinois, the Valley's most athletic team, dominated Bradley on the glass in their last two meetings. Should O'Bryant get into foul trouble, the only other big men on the Bradley roster, Brandyn Heemskerk (7-1, 260) and Sam Singh (6-9, 260), have played a combined 124 minutes this year.

Bradley's defensive numbers may be deceivingly strong. There wasn't a lot of offensive talent in the Missouri Valley Conference this year. Wichita State and Missouri State were the only top-50 offenses in the league and Northern Iowa, ranked 71st, was the only other Valley team in the top-90 nationally. As a point of reference, Kansas State would have been an upper division offensive team in the MVC.

The numbers show that Bradley limits their opponents' field goal shooting (though not to the extent that Kansas does), forces a decent amount of turnovers, and (usually) controls the defensive glass. Sommerville, in particular, is a fine defensive rebounder. I assume his paltry offensive rebounding numbers are due to the volume and length of his shot attempts.

The numbers also show that Bradley's strong defensive performances have come in the slowest-paced games they've played. It's no secret that Kansas is far more effective offensively in high-possession games (unless Oklahoma State is involved). Bradley allowed 1.03 points per possession in at-risk games (road, neutral, home games against NCAA tournament teams) with at least 70 possessions per team. Kansas averages just under 70 possessions per game.

In all likelihood Bradley can't allow 1.03 points per Kansas possession. Only three teams (Nevada, St. Joseph's, and Texas) and Thomas Gardner have scored more than 1.03 points per possession in a game against Kansas this year. Bradley averages just 1.03 points per possession on the season. Looking at either at-risk games or just games against NCAA tournament teams, Bradley's offense shrinks to 0.97 points per possession. There are, as I said, some good defensive teams in the Valley. None of them are as good as Kansas.

Prediction: Kansas 71 Bradley 62

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